Atherosclerosis starts early and progresses throughout life. You can't see or feel it, but in most of us the process is already under way.
The plaques of atherosclerosis can grow to become blood vessel blockages. If a plaque ruptures, the sudden blood clot causes a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is common, unpredictable, and potentially deadly. Is there any good news? Because atherosclerosis takes decades to progress, the process can be slowed down at any point, reducing the risk.
You may also need medication to treat the irregular heartbeat of AFib, by controlling the rate or the rhythm (or both) of your heart.
"If your heart rhythm is off but the rate isn't too fast, that isn't as much of a problem," says William Whang, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine in cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center.
"But when the heart rate is over 100 beats per minute for very long, the bottom pumping chamber -- the ventricle -- can become weak," he says. This leads to a condition called cardiomyopathy, which puts you at greater risk for heart failure.
The two types of medication most commonly used to slow a racing heart are:
If you aren't bothered by symptoms, your doctor may decide that correcting your heart's rhythm may not be worth the side effects.
But some people with AFib do struggle daily with fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness. If you do, your doctor may recommend an anti-arrhythmic medication to steady your heartbeat and help ease those symptoms.
Some drugs slow down how fast electrical signals can travel in the heart muscle. These sodium channel blockers include flecainide (Tambocor) and propafenone (Rythmol). But people with coronary disease or any kind of heart failure can't use them, cautions John Wylie, MD, director of electrophysiology services for Massachusetts-based Caritas Christi Health Care.
And while it may help fix the rhythm in the top part of your heart, dofetilide might also cause life-threatening abnormal heartbeats in the bottom part of your heart, too. You'll start taking it in the hospital. That way, doctors and nurses can watch you carefully during the first few days, when most of these complications happen.
Most of the common anti-arrhythmic drugs work between 45% and 55% of the time, Wylie says.